Tuesday 3 April 2018

Top 100 Favourite Films: #100-91

#100: The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence – What every sequel should aspire to

Well, ain’t this an ideal way to start a list of good movies?(!) Okay, to be clear, I’m not much of a gorehound so my liking for this particular film isn’t because of its graphic imagery, its gore or its showing of infanticide. Instead, I have a lot of respect for this film because it feels like the most natural progression possible from the first film.

A man becomes obsessed with the first Human Centipede film. Okay, why? What kind of person would devote himself that much to such a bizarre idea? The film delves into that, showing Martin’s mental disturbances in vivid detail. In my review of the first film, written in the long long ago, I mentioned in passing that there could be a possible Jackass effect where obsessed fans could be inspired to create their own Human Centipedes. Knowing how closely writer/director Tom Six pays attention to online comments and activity, this film actually taking that notion and running with it only confirmed for me that this is the kind of sequel that most filmmakers should aim to make; not in content but in approach.

I mean, not every film can feature barb wire ribbed for his pleasure, right?

#99: Series 7: The Contenders – The dramatized best-case-scenario of reality TV

In the early 2000’s, a time when Survivor was in its prime and reality TV was still being watched on actual TVs, writer/director Daniel Minahan crafted a remarkably astute satire of the reality TV landscape. Expanding on the expected want to see others at their lowest that goes into why most people tune into these shows in the first place, this film about a violent game show where contestants must kill each other to win is rather old hat at this point. The idea of forced competition is something that has gained mass awareness through films like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. However, what separates this from the pack is two-fold. One, it sticks so closely to reality filming techniques that it keeps the focus where it needs to be, while setting up the dystopia that gave birth to the show in-universe in remarkably subtle ways. For another, looking back on this, it feels weirdly optimistic.

Here’s a direct quote from the film: “This is not about my armpits! Why don’t we just say what this is really about, okay?! You still can’t forgive me because I had an abortion!”

Reading that even without the context that gem of a line sits in, I can’t help but think that reality TV has only gotten more melodramatic in the interim. Like most satire, the real world took it as a benchmark to be surpassed.

#98: Look – Some footage needs to be found

There’s a big question that most found footage films seem to hand-wave away: Why was this particular footage found? Why was it compiled together? Why are we seeing it? Well, it may be a bit indirect but this film actually answers that question: Because we are all on some kind of found footage, through 24-hour modern surveillance equipment, and for good and for ill, not all of it gets acted upon. The pedophile trawling through department stores for his next victim, the thugs robbing a convenience store, the underage student set on seducing her married teacher, the constantly-mocked office worker who is one bad day away from a complete meltdown; the glass eye sees all. And yet, not all that it sees is acted upon. The footage was found because someone had to see it.

#97: Glen Or Glenda – The birth of the American avant-garde

Any time this film is brought up, it’s usually as part of the canon of “so bad it’s good” cinema. I respectfully disagree and would argue that this film is not only genuinely good, if blatantly flawed, but also a very important piece of cinema. It has all the trappings associated with filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr.: Rampant use of stock footage, disjointed narrative, production values so cheap that even the era in which it was made isn’t enough to excuse them, and of course, plenty of unintentional hilarity ensues. But this film also contains a willingness to discuss transvestism and transgenderism in a way that is astounding to see, even today, and it offers a murky but earnest depiction of Ed Wood, basically playing a fictionalized version of himself complete with his real-life cross-dressing intact. This film’s knack for unintentionally mindfucking the audience through its lengthy dream sequence, duelling narrators and awkward narrative detours would also influence a lot of more “artsy” filmmakers in the modern era, particularly the dream-walking narratives of David Lynch. Even objectively “bad” films can not only engage but resonate; this is one of the reasons why I see audience engagement on any level to be valid. That, and this moment… this moment is genuinely beautiful.

#96: Tropic Thunder – Ben Stiller sets fire to Hollywood

Even considering Stiller’s lengthy career in Hollywood, I can’t help but giggle at his ubiquity considering how much he seems to hate the entertainment industry. Most of his directorial efforts operate in this mode, from the fashion shredding of Zoolander to the questioning of media consumption in The Cable Guy. This film, I feel, shows him at his most vicious, looking at the skewed and often hypocritical way Hollywood and the film industry at large operates. From prominent product placement to appropriating other cultures and identities for the sake of a performance to the treatment of the disabled in “Oscar bait” productions, every target this film fashions is not only accurate but deserving. Hell, the now-infamous monologue from Robert Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus is so scathing and close-to-the-bone that a lot of audiences couldn’t tell if it was supporting the behaviour or condemning it. Another case of satire being too good, but it’s still a satire of the film industry that Ben Stiller populated with a bucket-full of recognizable Hollywood names. Everyone got together to talk shit about their line of work; it’s kind of a beautiful thing to behold.

#95: Bruce Almighty – Playing God can be tricky

Honestly, I like this film more for its potential than its final contents. Sure, seeing the ever-energetic Jim Carrey in a celestial game of “well, let’s see you do better then!” is quite fun and the casting of Morgan Freeman as God is still a stroke of absolute genius. But looking at the deleted scenes for the film, having grown up with the film on DVD, this could’ve been something more complex. The deleted scenes mainly focus on other people that Bruce helped through answering their prayers, but we end up seeing those same people actually turning out worse from his intervention than they would have been otherwise. In the words of God himself: “Triumph is borne through struggle”. Of course, this sequence also includes a mention of Lance Armstrong to help prove that point, which in retrospect would’ve made the film insanely awkward, but I still find that potential tone quite fascinating. This film made me aware of just how much we don’t see in films, and how what’s left on the cutting room floor could be the discarded pieces of a completely different story.

#94: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – Inbred illusionists

This film has gone down in horror history as one of the most terrifying and violent films of all time. And yet, watching the complete package, it is surprising how non-graphic it is. Director Tobe Hooper used only two pints worth of stage blood for the film, meaning that a lot of what we are given is implied rather than blatantly shown. So, basically, this film is so scary that it tricked the audience into thinking that it was more violent than it actually was. That aspect of this look at care-free teenagers being captured and killed by a family of redneck serial killers is what fascinates me most, and it highlights the true power of scary cinema when done right. With the power of suggestion and implication, you can scare an audience without actually showing them anything. If only more horror flicks nowadays knew how that worked.

#93: Shrek – THE 21st century fairy tale

The numerous memes and cultural footprints this film has left over the past fifteen years, combined with the rather dated CGI on hand, make this a bit strange to watch nowadays. But I reckon that this is the quintessential fairy tale of our time, one which marked a decidedly more questioning and satirical approach that a lot of subsequent releases would copy. And yeah, this film being a rather bladed retort to the works of Disney/Pixar gives it a nice rebellious edge, especially since they would go on to make films in this vein, but it also represents just how much our method of sharing stories has changed with the advent of modern technology.

Legends and folklore aren’t shared through hushed whispers and drunken ramblings these days; they’re shared through tweets and creepypastas, giving us creations like the Slender Man and the SCPs. Between the long-running meme of Smash Mouth’s All Star, which soundtracks the film’s iconic opening, and the “Shrek is love, Shrek is life” subversive piss-take that the character himself has gone through over the last few years, this is a film that has taken on a life of its own. I mean, I still remember when this film first came out when I was only 6 years old, and in school, we were already discussing it in the same breath as Hansel & Gretel and Jack And The Beanstalk. Hindsight has only strengthened that power. And no, it’s not a dead meme. Memes are like Cthulhu: They don’t die, they just sleep.

#92: The Witches – Who knew being evil could be so much fun?

The last hurrah for Jim Henson’s legendary Creature Workshop during his lifetime, this story about a boy-turned-rat teaming up with his grandmother to stop a hotel full of witches is a great depiction of just how entertaining it is to be evil. Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch is one of my all-time favourite villains, letting just the sheer malice of her character ring through every syllable of her perplexingly untraceable accent. Motivation? Who needs motivation when you can just be evil? It benefits from the puppetry of Creature Workshop, and the performances of Rowan Atkinson as the perpetually annoyed hotel manager and Mai Zetterling as the best grandmother ever put to film, but it’s Huston that wins this movie for me every time.

#91: The Number 23 – Conspiratorial paranoia stripped bare

This film has been criticized heavily for being ridiculous and far-fetched. That’s not a hard conclusion to reach, since it’s about a man who thinks a two-digit number is trying to kill him, but that’s also kind of the point. Being that paranoid is ridiculous. It is far-fetched. It’s framed not as true conspiracy but as a shared delusion that serves to connect the dots between unrelated events. It shows just how far people go to make sense of our chaotic existence, a mindset that can be traced back to some of the most damaging collective mindsets in human history. Through Jim Carrey (yes, him again) showing his under-recognized talent with more serious films and the rather dark playfulness Schumacher exhibits in his framing of the story, this is a film that highlights irrational thought patterns for what they are. I actually have quite a few irrational thought patterns of my own, some depressive and some connected to my social phobias, and I feel like this film helped me to identify them as such. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that I see cinema as a form of therapy.

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